If you pull into a winery parking lot and see a row of tour buses belching exhaust, turn around. This isn't the Napa Valley you came to see. Luckily, the old Napa, with its family-owned hardscrabble wine culture, is still there, you just have to hunt a little harder — and turn off onto some steep, winding side roads — to find it.
It's actually surprising how many small family-owned and boutique wineries are still operating around the Napa Valley -- in fact it can seem like there are more every day. But they don't have the big marketing budgets to advertise their wares, nor the land and budget for a splashy tasting room. What they do have is great wine, and sometimes if you're lucky you'll be drinking wine poured by the hands that made it.
Some family-owned wineries are small enough that visits are by appointment only, but don’t be put off by that. Make a quick call, and you’re likely to have the memorable experience of sampling boutique wines that never make it to the shops. And many of these wineries are operating by sustainable principles, participating in widespread initiatives to green Napa winemaking. Here are a few of my favorites.
Founded in 1972, Stag's Leap shocked the oenological world 4 years later, when its 1973 cabernet won first place over French wines in a Parisian blind tasting. Visit the charmingly landscaped, unfussy winery and its very cramped "tasting room," where you can try a selection of four current release wines for $15 per person. Be prepared to pay $30 to $40 for estate wines. A 1-hour tour and tasting runs through everything from the vineyard and production facilities to the ultraswank $5-million wine caves.